Now in his seventies, one of the modern world's most accomplished pianists is an American named Van Cliburn. Mr. Cliburn, a mannerly child prodigy, achieved a level of international recognition that is remarkable, given that he was lionized by the Russians during the Cold War era.
During my easily-bored teen years, my mamacita gamely invited me to hear Mr. Cliburn perform at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium. The setting was austere - a bare stage, one grand piano, and one lanky man. The only adornments were the elegantly-dressed crowd and, of course, the music. Even though I was more enthralled by dance tunes than classical concertos, it was quite a night. His flawless rendition of either "The Mephisto Waltz" or "Rachmaninoff's No. 3 in D-Minor" netted him a standing ovation.
Turns out that Mr. Cliburn was taught and guided by a woman who was a one-of-a-kind music teacher:
"Cliburn's ties to the grand romantic school of piano were close from the start of his career: His only teacher for the first 17 years of his life was his indomitable mother, herself a pupil of Arthur Friedheim, who was a pupil of Franz Liszt. Later, at the Juilliard School, the young pianist studied at his mother's urging with the acclaimed Russian pedagogue Rosina Lhevinne. 'Van was so teachable,' recalled a proud Mrs. Cliburn in 1958, 'and always so respectful and quick to learn.' "
Rildia Bee O'Bryan Cliburn didn't become a mother until she was 37 years old, and Van was her only child. She died in 1994 at the age of 97.
Mane Man: That's Liszt, not V.C., in the little photo.